7 months, 17 tours, 56 cooking classes, 144 guests and over 35,000 miles of Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio are behind us. That was the 2008 season for us at Culture Discovery. As with last year, after coming back to the US, I have gone into video mode. Here is the first video I have made since coming back, which essentially sums up the season:
What a wild ride it was. It was a lot of fun, and a lot of work…. but always very rewarding. Most of all, we made a ton of new friends and had the opportunity to share something we love with so many new people.
Some new stuff in 2008…
We started the year unexpectedly using our ‘old’ kitchen down at the villa. We had started construction in September 2007 on a new 700 square foot kitchen, where the barn had once stood. Our old kitchen was too small for us to comfortably do classes for more than 6 people at a time, so the new kitchen was a matter of urgency. The new kitchen was supposed to be finished in April, but of course, we are in Italy. So in April we had a structure and nothing more. It wasn’t finished until late July, so we had quite a few groups crowd into the old kitchen for a while.
The new kitchen, which Paola and I designed ourselves, came out even more beautiful than we imagined. All of the counters are travertine marble, the sink is a solid carved block of travertine, all of the tiles are hand-painted, and the masonry for the separating wall and fireplace came out breathtakingly beautiful. The large lighting fixtures and our 90-bottle wine rack (which we found ourselves restocking every 2 weeks) were all hand-crafted in iron; and everything was finished by local artisans. What a pleasure it was to begin using it!
Besides the kitchen, this year we got sick of renting vans, and decided to buy a new one. We headed to Germany and got a perfect 9-passenger Opel Vivaro that soon became lovingly known as ‘Shultz’. When we have 8 or fewer people in a week, Shultz is always there to take care of us.
We started the season with five homes for our guests: La Campana, Vecchio Forno, Ponticello, Chiosco, and Trinita. By the end of the year, we added two new places, called ‘Caminetto’ and ‘Santa Maria’. Santa Maria is perfect for our guests that don’t do well with hills, as it is just a few steps from Soriano’s Piazza. It just went through a complete remodel, and makes for a beautiful place for up to four people. Caminetto became available in August, so a good number of our 2008 guests had the opportunity to stay here. It is the largest of the homes we offer, and boasts the largest terrace we have, with an amazing view out toward the Tiber Valley.
2008 also fostered some new relationships in Italy for our future guests. During the season we began to take guests to a winery and olive mill near Orvieto called Madonna delle Macchie, which has proven to be so popular that we have built it into every week we offer in the future. Moving into 2009, we will be offering our future guests the ability to actually rent part of the vineyard or olive orchard for their own personal wine and olive oil!
In April we met the incredibly gracious Prince Riccardo Nobile-Vitteleschi in the town of Labro, Umbria. He lives in the 1,000 year old castle of his ancestors, and has personally taken our guests on tours of his ‘home’. This has been so popular, that it is a staple for our 2009 itineraries now.
During the year, our travels through Tuscany and Umbria have brought us to new wineries, new monasteries, new restaurants, new towns… all of the more popular ones are in for next year, while the less popular are out. So as I look at the 2009 calendar, I can honestly say I am VERY excited!
So to those of you reading this that were with us this season: Thank you so much, it was a blast! To those of you reading this that are still looking forward to your time with us, know this: I’m looking forward to it as much as you are! We’re going to have a fantastic time.